10 (More) Tips on Doing Productive Web Work with Kids in the House

49 Comments

Not all web workers are the hip, trendy, just-out-of college types — quite a few of us have rugrats running around, making noise, spilling juice and demanding attention at the same time as our email and IM demand that same attention.

I’ve got a 14-year-old daughter who wants to use the computer to check her MySpace messages, a 1-year-old daughter who is extremely tiny and yet has the healthiest set of lungs in the house, and four kids in between who make the Tasmanian devil seem like a calm Zen Master. And yet, I manage. I write several articles a day on top of my day job, in addition to cleaning the house, doing errands, and making sure the bills are paid on time.

We’ve written before on how to manage kids in the home office. As a father of six kids, I have some additional tips based on my own experience.

1. Wake up early. I’ve trained myself to get up at 4:30 a.m. most days (sometimes I sleep in until 5:30 or 6:00 a.m.). Now, I’m not saying you have to get up that early, but getting up even half an hour or an hour earlier than the younguns can give you some time to do some uninterrupted work in the quiet of the predawn hours.

2. Team up with your spouse. It really helps to have a great, supportive spouse. My wife is a teacher, so she needs to do work herself, so we take turns working at the computer while the other keeps the kids at bay. Take the kids outside, or take them to a park, or read to them, while your spouse does some work. Then switch.

3. Stay up a little later. While my kids are going to bed, I jump on the computer and do some writing, clear out my email inbox, take care of a few other web tasks before bed. I can often get a good hour or so after the little ones are tucked away.

4. Teach them to play by themselves. My kids can keep themselves entertained for good stretches at a time. They play Legos or board games in the room, they play imaginary space alien characters (or Pokemon or Star Wars or whatever is popular), and yes, I let them play video games or watch a DVD sometimes. I let them go in their room and play for a little while so I can get a little work done. I check on them from time to time, of course, and don’t hole them up for too long.

5. Send them to grandmas. Sometimes they like to go to their grandparents or to an aunt’s house for a little while. I cram out the work when they’re gone.

6. Go to a coffee shop or library. Sometimes you just gotta get out of the house and find some peace and quiet. If you’ve got a laptop, go be among grownups and do some work at a coffee shop. If not, a library is a great place to work, with free Internet connections and a quiet environment. Just make sure it’s not kids’ read aloud hour.

7. Ask them to play quietly. I actually like having the kids play near me, but sometimes I tell them that it’s daddy’s work time, so they have to play quietly. This, surprisingly enough, can actually work. For a little while.

8. Tune them out. This is one of the modes I use most often. I let them do their thing around me while I go into a state of Flow, tuning out the world and focusing completely on my work. I can do this for a surprisingly long time. I think it must be conditioning or something.

9. Send them outside. I have a fairly big yard, set back a ways from the road, so I can send (most of) my kids outside to play while I do work. The run around like crazy people, scaring the neighbors, while I work in peace.

10. Turn off the computer and play with them. You can’t tune out your kids all the time. Web worker parents know that while work is important, the kids are more important, and productivity doesn’t hold a candle to spending quality time with them, having fun with them, and just loving them. Their childhoods only last for a flickering moment in time, so be sure not to miss it.

Have your own tips on being productive with kids in the house? Share them in the comments.

49 Comments

kids chair

This is great, I work from home with a 2 1/2 year old running around and it can be tricky, but if you stay consistent and set up a routine it can work out wonderfully. Great post. Thanks!

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Pete

I think it’s important to set aside your work time in relatively small blocks and to be really focussed and productive and then get the kids to entertain themslves during this time. Make the periods in between fun with a trip to the park or playing some games. Try not to mix the fun/work times. I also appreciate time at either end of the day.

Susan

1. Let kids know rules upfront.
2. Build a huge sandbox that you can see outside of your office window.
3. Put tons of legos in or near your office.
4. Make signs for summer. If sign says, “Mom on phone with clients; no friends inside.” or “Mom working, but if you’re quiet, you may come inside.”
5. Train kids to knock on door or come up to office quietly to see if you’re on phone before yelling “mom” fron across the house.
6. Kids answer the house phone and take messages. You cannot do it all.
7. Start work earlier in summer months.
8. Let kids sleep in a little more in summer months.
9. Make lunchtime fun with kids if you have to work from home in summer. Grill out or have a picnic on the grass. Makes everyone feel better when you have to go back at it and it’s beautiful and 70 outside.

Jan Ferrante - Queen of KAOS

Working at home is a huge challenge. I thought it would be easier than working out of the home but I suspect I may have been mistaken!

A few things that I have found to help are to close the door when I need to concentrate, and make sure that the kids know not to disturb me unless it is an emergency (surprising what can constitute and emergency some days. This goes for spouses too, my husband is gone and then back for long periods of time, when he is home he interrupts me far more than the kids do, maybe you can write an article about that :0)

Put your brain on your desk. I have a weird brain like looking thing, when it is on my desk, it means that I’m “in the groove” so don’t interrupt. You can use anything, but humorous is better.

My kids are older now, so my bigger challenge is getting computer time when they are home. I recently set up my email on my laptop which helps a lot and have just invested in a new computer – a 3gig dual processor which is better than the one I have even without “issues”.

The increase in productivity as well as the decrease in the odds of becoming a nervous wreck due to computer issues makes it well worth the money. the old one is giving up the ghost anyway, so they can have it for their stuff and I am looking forward to once again having my own.

That has also been an issue for productivity, you need the right tools, a computer that has one speed – slow – is not a productive use of your time. A proper keyboard and chair also makes a huge difference. I recently changed my laptop keyboard to one I love using and I am far more productive. A really cheap productivity fix.

I just got a new chair too, after years of having a sore back, I realize it is an investment I should have made right away. (they had a sale!)

I have a picture of the keyboard and a bit of info here(go for soft touch) and will be putting up a picture of my chair and new computer too.

a href=”http://queenofkaos.com/WAHMblog/158/keyboard-productivity/”

Maura

Excellent post! We also have six kids and have used many of your tips to keep the work-at-home-while-take-care-of-kids balance. I also like to recommend the use of a “mommy’s (or daddy’s) helper”. This is a neighborhood teen who can come over and occupy the kids for an hour or two, providing mom or dad with some quiet time to get more work done.

adib

Working at home does not work for me. I’ve been working from home about 2 years now and I really have been wasting lots of my precious time.

Now I spend extra few hundred bucks to rent an office room just nearby my house (about 1 mile from house).

I fix my working time and I have quality time during that hours. I think I should start working at my own office (outside my house) long time ago. I still can enjoy getting back during lunch hour and back home early to play with my children :)

Ladybug

I have set up another desk and “work station” for my 4 year old son. When my daughter is down for a nap, my son and I get to work!!! He feels very important.

JTPRATT's Blogging Mistakes

People that think that working from home is the greatest thing should read this list! The hardest thing about working from home is definitely not finding the time – it’s finding uninterrupted time! great article!

Annie

Nice post, Leo.

I often work in the early morning before the kids are up and in the evenings after they’ve gone to bed. Often, I can get some of the things I must use the phone for done in the afternoons when my toddler is napping and the other kids are content to play in the rec room or outdoors on nice days.

My husband just recently rearranged our router and what-not so that I can now also sit outside on the patio while the kids play in the yard. That in itself is an amazing thing. They will usually play much nicer, interrupting me less often if we’re outside.

Thanks for speaking up on this topic!

~ Annie
PS – we have 7!! ;-)

TextAdSearch

On point 6, do your kids not realise you have sneaked off. I tend to find as soon as they realise your not about they tend to call the neighbour/police/fire service/santa claus. Even when you’ve just gone out to the garage to find something.

Angel

Quite honestly, I don’t really have much problem getting stuff done with my daughter around. I can’t stand sitting in front of a computer for too long anyway so I run away for some playtime breaks with her and then get back to what I was doing. It refreshes me for whatever I was doing and she’s happy because she gets plenty of mommy time =)

Of course, I don’t have 6 kids. One is enough for me [she’s 2]. I give you kudos for having 6!

Judi Sohn

I try and break my task list up. Right now my 9 year old is in here playing and talking at me nonstop, so I’m doing some administrative/maintenance tasks which are easier to do while interrupted. Many mornings I’ll set my alarm for 2 hours before the kids are up so I have time to do the work that requires more intense concentration.

sujamthe

I find that we all get into “work mode” when we are in meetings solving issues and when working from home with the meeting on phone or Webex it brings that tension to the home. This makes handling children worse as they do not understand your sudden mode change with a call or email.

My suggestion is to keep a place at work (office) or a corner to work and communicate to kids that when you are “working” they cannot disturb (works only for 4+ yr old and upwards ). Come out of this “office at home” periodically to interact and stretch – similar to your coffee breaks or hangout at the next cubicle which will get you off the stress to focus on the issues not people so you can solve it and move on.

Stay At Home Dad, Geek Style

I completely agree about all of these. Often, when I am in serious “work mode”, I am able to sit there and bang it out, no matter what is going on. Alex (my 16 month old daughter) can be banging pots and pans or run around, as she normally does, and I find a way to keep an eye on here while still remaining focused. It’s amazing what you can handle once it becomes a part of your daily life.

DevDad

Anne-Marie

I work while my kids are taking their karate lessons. Yes, it’s loud as heck, but that’s what iPods are for. I either read, take notes, or listen to a podcast. I’ve seen other parents bring their laptops and work at the tables or in the bleachers. The city has free wifi at the moment, so I could work online if I chose to.

I also work during my son’s speech therapy sessions. The office has a spare room with a desk.

A suggestion is maybe asking your child’s dance/karate/sports facility to consider adding wireless in their building. Offer to set it up for them free if you know how.

Tiffaney Watts

I brought my 2 year old and laptop like toy and a desk that sits beside my desk in my office. So that when she gets home from daycare (around 3:30) if I need to get some work done, she will sit beside me at her desk and draw and play on her computer. That keeps her quiet about 1-2 hours. She just loves doing the things that mommy does.

Pete Johnson

One thing that has been helpful at my house is communicating to my 5 year old a set of rules for when daddy is working. For example, if the office door is closed she knows she’s not allowed to burst in and start asking me questions but she can open the door to see if I’m busy. When the door is open, she can be as loud as she wants to be. If I’ve got my headset on but I’m not talking, I might be able to help her fix a broken toy, but if she hears me talking she knows she has to wait.

#10 on the list is my favorite. She knows my day can be flexible and some times I can take 30 minutes to go play Pretty Pretty Princess and that’s completely worth making up that time after she’s asleep later. I found, with my daughter at least, giving her that time when I can helps her follow the rules better when I need her to.

Pete Johnson
HP.com Chief Architect
Personal blog: http://nerdguru.net

As if

dude, 6 kids.

Maybe the way to deal with this is more time working and less time “on the job”

Dana Jones

I highly recommend having a healthy stock of playdoh around for younger kids (but those old enough not to risk eating it). I sit ours out at the dining room table while I work, and either give them the playdoh sets, or butter knives, cookie cutters, etc. to use. They will often play there (mostly) amicably together for hours.

Serge Lescouarnec

I can relate.

My personal take on this is ‘Just over 50 and not dead yet’.

I actually offered this as a panel theme for the next South by Southwest.

As you say the web is not populated only by hip young singles.

Bon week-end

Serge
‘The French Guy from New Jersey’
Blog:
http://www.sergetheconcierge.com

Skellie

Certainly one of the more under-reported aspects of working from home – thanks for giving it some deserved attention :).

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